The Abbot’s Notebook for July 26, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  It continues to be very hot here at the Monastery and we have changed our afternoon schedule slightly to accommodate the needs of the brothers.  Many of the brothers are not sleeping well at night.  So we have moved the afternoon Divine Office of None to right after the main meal.  This allows for brothers to have longer naps at the hottest time of day.  We will experiment and see if this works well for the community.

One of the gifts of our community is that we are able to change our schedules to adapt to various needs at various times.  In the winter, normally in late January or early February, we adjust the schedule to have more sleeping time and a shorter form of Vigils.  That helps the brothers get through the coldest, darkest and dreariest time of year!  We have never tried adjusting for the heat before, but this year the heat is more than normal.  Thanks be to God that almost always the temperatures drop at night and there is the possibility of good sleep for a large part of the night.

This past week my doctor took me off of three medicines which I should no longer need.  Two of the medicines were for atrial fibrillation, which I had after the chest surgery to remove the thymoma tumor.  This atrial fibrillation will most likely not occur again.  I hope!  The other medicine was the blood thinners that I have been using since early March because of the blood clots in my legs.  My doctor had told me that I would be on the blood thinners for about three months and that is how it has turned out.  He also reminds me that I will most likely be prone to blood clots now and so must make sure of taking precautions, such as compression socks when I travel, standing up regularly.  Not staying seated for long periods of time.  And so on….

One of the medicines for atrial fibrillation was most likely the culprit for causing the problems with a dry throat.  I still have the dry throat sometimes, but it is clearly going away bit by bit.

Is getting off medicines part of the spiritual life?  I hope so!  Whatever we do, think and say is part of our spiritual life.  The challenge is to keep clinging to Christ in all.  I don’t always manage that, but I keep trying.  This past week I have had ups and downs emotionally.  This is also part of the spiritual life.  I find myself cranky in the mornings and sometimes all day.  All of my life until now, I have been blessed with being able to get up in the morning, feel good about everything and embrace the day without any difficulties.  That is no longer true.  Instead, I wake up already cranky and prone to conflict and prone to judging others.  For the spiritual life, that means that I am learning how to work against my own moods and try to do and say and think what is right, rather just what I feel within me.

So much of my life, I have been spoiled by a naturally happy disposition, without headaches, without any serious illness, with lots of energy and focus.  Now all that has changed and I must still strive to be faithful to the Lord.  Again, this is part of the spiritual life of each one of us:  we have to adjust to what is, rather than getting frustrated because what is now is not what we have been used to.  Spiritual life requires an intense flexibility at the same time as a complete dedication to the will of God.

Why doesn’t God let us have everything go well in our lives?  Why do bad things happen to us?  Why is our own will to be faithful to God so weak?  These questions come naturally to mind at times.  The answer to all of them is that God wants us to grow in our love for Him and in our ability to choose Him even when it is difficult to do so.  Our will can only become strong and firm when we are aware of God’s love for us and cling to that love rather than trying to make our own will stronger by our own exercises.

The deepest aspect of our spiritual life consists in accepting God’s love for us and allowing that love to transform us.  It is not we who choose God.  Rather it is God choosing us and our response to His love for us.  Yes, of course, we must strive to be faithful and we have to work at that, but the basic impulse of our spiritual life is not us, but the Lord.  If our spiritual life is our work, it is not of the Lord.  If our spiritual life is simply responding to what the Lord is doing within us, then all shall be well.

I think that in my early years, I always tried to do all the work of my spiritual life:  avoiding evil, trying to do good, taking time in prayer, learning lots of ways of prayer, reading about the life of prayer, etc.  But it was all me, trying to make myself good enough for the Lord.  In time I learned that I could never make myself good enough for the Lord.  I spent a couple of years simply meditating on the reality that God loves me just as I am.  Slowly I began to relax into His love and trust Him completely.  That does not mean that I do everything right, even to this day, but my basic life revolves around trying to respond to Him instead of initiating anything.  I remember reading one time:  the only thing that we can give to God, something that is completely our own, is our sins!  This has helped me have a tremendous trust in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in which I give my sins to Him and trust in his mercy and forgiveness.

Once more I send you my love and prayers.  I will celebrate a Holy Mass for you and for your intentions this week and ask the Lord to bless you.  Please also pray for me and for all of the sisters and brothers of our communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip